St. John’s Catholic School team wins University of Southern Maine CubeSat competition

St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick is celebrating as a student team placed first in the University of Southern Maine (USM) CubeSat Design Competition in the middle school category. The two-student team, named Team Europa, includes eighth graders Wesley Agnor and Gabriel Grondin.

CubeSats are a class of small satellites. Their low cost makes for an ideal platform for scientific research and spacecraft development. The USM CubeSat Design Competition is part of the university’s K-12 STEM outreach program.

“I was in shock after winning the entire competition out of 15 other teams from bigger schools,” Grondin, the team’s sensor programmer, said. “I am so happy that we won, achieved and exceeded our goal!”

“We worked countless hours for this win! It took a lot of research, testing, experiments and teamwork,” Agbor, sensor engineer, said. “It was all worth it to bring back this win!”

Team Europa launched and performed an electromagnetic frequency radiation test on a high-altitude balloon to explore the effects of electromagnetic pulse radiation (EMP) on electronics and equipment. The team members say their research was motivated by a 2008 incident when an Airbus A330 jet was struck by a natural EMP particle from the sun that flipped a switch in the plane’s computer and caused it to nosedive. The aircraft narrowly avoided crashing.

To investigate EMP radiation, the team used a CubeSat equipped with sensors and tested to see if a specially crafted EMP sensor could detect wave frequencies associated with recognized EMPs in the atmosphere.

“The findings of this study will provide valuable insights into the potential risks associated with EMP radiation and may lead to the development of protective measures for electronics. Overall, this research has significant implications for the safety and sustainability of aviation and the progress of technological advancements in the field,” Team Europa said in their project proposal.

“Experiences like these not only push students to reach for knowledge but they open countless doors for them to explore space, STEM, and prepare themselves for the growing space economy here in Maine that will supply jobs,” St. John’s Catholic School teacher and advisor Karin Paquin said.

“For me, teaching is about more than academics—it's about equipping students like Wes and Gabe with the skills they’ll carry long after they leave my classroom. My goal has always been to instill determination, problem-solving, critical thinking, kindness, and the courage to reach for dreams. They continue to inspire me every day.  I want them to know they possess the skills and knowledge to soar. Thank you for making me a better teacher,” Paquin continued.

"This remarkable achievement is a testament to the hard work, dedication, and innovative spirit of our students. The competition was fierce, with schools from across the state of Maine showcasing their projects. However, our team’s exceptional understanding of CubeSats and their research set them apart,” principal of St. John's Catholic School Shelly Wheeler said.

“Their project not only demonstrated advanced scientific knowledge but also highlighted their ability to think creatively and work collaboratively. This victory not only brings honor to our school but also inspires us all to strive for excellence in our pursuits. It is a shining example of what St. John's Catholic School students can achieve with passion and perseverance," Wheeler continued.

Team Europa will be presenting their winning project and experience at the Maine Space conference in October in Portland.

St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick serves nearly 150 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 8th grade with an enriching classical education anchored by faith. St. John’s Catholic School was established in Brunswick in 1882.

St. John’s Catholic School offers an academic curriculum in a values-oriented environment. The ministry of the school, faculty, and staff serves to support the family by assisting parents in the academic, social, and spiritual formation of their children.

students in church
students on cubesat launch outside
students testing in the science lab
students in the lab
students in the lab
students launching their satellite
students holding a satellite at school